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Columnists

Truth ache

Agnostics anonymous

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Truth is apparently the first casualty of war. Nine years into the War on Terror, it shows no signs of making a recovery. The reaction against the 'Ground Zero Mosque' illustrates the point. As exhaustively pointed out by commentators, Ground Zero isn't the location of the (erstwhile) Cordoba Centre, which isn't, as such, a mosque.

The attitude of the religious right seems to be that the facts on the ground are irrelevant next to the force of their righteous indignation. One in five in the US now  claim to believe that the President is Muslim. Why not? In the new era, truth can be shouted down.

This Christianist mob has been taking on what they call Darwinism (and what everyone else calls mainstream biology) for years. They now seem minded to go after relativity. Stem cell research has also been forcibly halted again. If something as implacable as science can be overthrown by popular acclaim, why should they accept anything so subjective as a President's personal faith?
Another rhetorical manoeuvre they engage in is the assertion that atheism, secularism, humanism and the various other cognate ideas, represent an alternative religion. Transform these ideas into a movement and it's just one more heresy to be shouted down.

But the inconvenient truth is that the truth isn't simple or transparent. Atheists would like to be able to make everything as clear and lucid as an axiom, but pinning down truth remains stubbornly difficult. Ideas aren't value-neutral, or wholly independent of culture - there is no unproblematic way of saying that truth just is, or that secularism is free of ideology. A reasonable depth of knowledge and intellectual honesty will compel anybody to admit that. To anybody steeped in the values of European academia, it's easy to be clever about 'truth', but a little learning is a dangerous thing. Intricate and brilliant theological moves can be executed with the intricate and brilliant tools developed by the postmodern philosophers. But this diamond-fine cutting edge is the thin end of a large and ugly wedge. At the other end is a mob so wilfully and cretinously committed to carrying their ideological torch that they are willing to set fire to the truth in order to light it.

And yet although truth is difficult, anybody abandoning fidelity to the idea of it is ushering in madness. Truth is subtle and difficult. But this doesn't mean it can be abandoned for an ideological free-for-all; the present situation in the US is a grim illustration of what happens if you do. Jesus said you shall learn the truth and the truth shall make you free. Now in the name of Jesus, a significant minority seem willing to throw the truth away.